Brussels: The European Union’s executive branch said Monday that it has launched legal action against COVID-19 vaccine-maker AstraZeneca for failing to respect the terms of its contract with the 27-country bloc.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been central to Europe’s immunisation campaign, and a linchpin in the global strategy to get vaccines to poorer countries. But the slow pace of deliveries has frustrated the Europeans and has been blamed in part for holding up the EU’s vaccine rollout.
European Commission spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker said that Brussels launched the legal action against AstraZeneca last Friday “on the basis of breaches of the advance purchase agreement.”
He said the reason for the legal action was that “some terms of the contract have not been respected” and that “the company has not been in a position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure a timely delivery of doses.”
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AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among member countries, with an option for a further 100 million.
But only 30 million doses were delivered in the first quarter of 2021, and the company says it can provide 70 million in the second quarter, rather than the 180 million it had promised.
AstraZeneca has previously said that its contract with the EU contained vaccine delivery targets, not firm commitments and that the company was unable to meet them because of early problems with rapidly expanding its production capacity.
Last month, the Commission launched a dispute resolution mechanism aimed at amicably addressing its differences with the company.
Brussels said its focus is to ensure timely deliveries of vaccines.
It since said that its option for extra AstraZeneca doses will not be taken up.
Last week, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that a new vaccine contract is set to be concluded with BioNTech-Pfizer for 1.8 billion doses for the 2021-23 period.
She said the deal will ensure doses for booster shots, vaccines adapted to new variants, and, potentially, vaccines for children and teenagers.
Von der Leyen said the EU, home to around 450 million people, has “already passed 123 million vaccinations” and is on track to have vaccinated 70% of all adults by July. Previously the target had been September.